Republican presidential politics in Nevada -- a key early-voting state -- have been chaotic in recent years, thanks in large part to former congressman and two-time GOP White House contender Ron Paul. Now his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is running for the office -- and the state GOP may be making moves to guarantee the Paul family no longer finds Nevada to be lucky terrain.
Nevada Republicans long generally picked a presidential favorite via primaries. In 2008, they held caucuses instead. Many Ron Paul voters showed up that day -- but even more showed up at the state party's convention months later. Paul's supporters who flooded the gathering, looking to elect their candidate's followers to represent the state at the national GOP convention. The state didn't reschedule another convention, instead opting to choose delegates via conference call.
Paul's supporters pulled a repeat performance in 2012. Even though Mitt Romney overwhelmingly won the Nevada caucuses, Paul -- who finished third -- was able to game the system at the convention, and almost all of the state's delegates to the national GOP convention in Tampa. There, a number of his supporters walked out of the proceedings after a decision to replace some of Paul's delegates.
The 2012 caucuses were "a total disaster the way it was handled. It was an embarrassment for the state," Nevada GOP chair Michael McDonald told The Washington Examiner Friday.
Nevada wasn't the only state to experience a Paul takeover. In Maine, Ron Paul supporters staged a coup at the state party convention, wresting away the gavel from Sen. Susan Collins.
Two cycles of turmoil seems to be enough for the Nevada GOP. Now, a number of bills in the Nevada legislature would switch the state's nominating process to a primary. The switch has support at the highest levels of the Nevada state party, including the head of the state GOP.
If the bills -- one which would create party primaries instead of caucuses, or another that would mandate an open primary -- pass, it could be bad news for the Paul running for president this year.
The Kentucky Republican is tapping into his father's infrastructure in the state, hoping to harness its supporters as he draws in others who may not have been affiliated with his campaign. Paul is trying to appeal to the state's libertarian bent, telling an audience in Las Vegas this month that he is "unafraid to challenge the status quo" and railing against excessive government regulation.
Caucuses tend to bring out only the most passionate supporters, making them a natural fit for Paul. A primary system -- which increases turnout, lessens the impact of motivated outsider groups, and can make it more difficult to add additional delegates by way of a selection process that falls after Election Day -- would make it more unlikely for Paul to claim the sort of insurgent showing his father did.
The debate -- primary vs caucus -- isn't limited to Nevada. In Colorado, legislators are drafting a bill that would switch the state to a primary from a caucus system because they believe it would make the state more of a valuable prize in 2016. Connecticut is thinking about switching from a primary to a caucus, and Arizona and Idaho from a caucus to a primary. Michigan was mulling the same. According to a Michigan Republican, Paul's people were trying to convince the party to go from a primary to a closed caucus.
"What the Paul people were trying to do was make a party argument, which most people agree with, that we should close the system in some way," said Saul Anuzis, the former chair of the Michigan Republican Party.
Back in his home state, nobody has pushed harder for presidential caucuses than Rand Paul. In March, the Kentucky Republican Party adopted his plan to circumvent state election law that prevents a candidate from appearing on the same ballot twice -- which involved holding Republican presidential nominating caucuses instead of a primary. (There will also be a primary -- where Paul's name will appear on a ballot -- as a candidate for U.S. Senate.)
But in Nevada, one of the four states granted special early-voting status by the Republican Party, Paul may not have the same luxury he has in his home state -- the sort of opportunity his father was able to take advantage of four years ago.